Pumpsie Green understood his role in Major League Baseball history as the first African-American to play for the Red Sox. But he saw no need to glorify an action that took place 12 years after Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in 1947.
Green died Wednesday at 85 in El Cerrito, California, his daughter, Keisha Green Joyner said. “I think his legacy is all the African-American ballplayers on the Red Sox, or any player of color," she said.
When Green debuted for the Red Sox on July 21, 1959, Major League Baseball finally had a player of color on each team. “He appreciated it, he was in awe of it, but he said he just wanted to play baseball," his daughter said. “He wasn’t trying to be in the news. He appreciated the opportunity to play. But as time went on, he better appreciated what he meant to baseball. But he wasn’t looking for that."
Green, whose given name was Elijah, was born in the historically black town of Boley, Oklahoma. He never disclosed the origin of his nickname, only that his mother started calling him that when he was young.
Green was an infielder who spent four seasons with the Red Sox and played in 17 games for the 1963 Mets. He had a career batting average of .246.
Prior to Green’s arrival in Boston, the Red Sox reportedly passed on Frank Robinson, Willie Mays, Larry Doby, Ernie Banks, Roberto Clemente and Hank Aaron — all future Hall of Famers. Then-Red Sox owner Tom Yawkey was linked to the team’s reluctance in signing players of color.
In 2018, the Red Sox announced they were changing Yawkey Way, outside Fenway Park, back to its original name of Jersey Street.
In 2009, the Red Sox honored Green as the team’s first black player. “He didn’t set out to be that person,’’ his daughter said. “He’s never been someone who wanted to be in the spotlight, a man of few words. I think he was their right person because of who he was as a man: quiet, non-confrontational, but strong-willed, able to withstand whatever and still hold his head up and not fight, but not run."